National Press Club Q&A

Release Date: 
20 November 2018


Subjects: Women’s Economic Security Statement, parental leave pay flexibility, bullying complaints process within the Liberal Party


SABRA LANE: You spoke in your speech directly to Australian girls and young women, but what advice would you give to your younger self if you could?

KELLY O'DWYER: If I was to give myself advice to the younger me. I would say don't be afraid to try things, to try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. Because you always learn something from that experience. But as I said in my speech I think women find it challenging sometimes to move on. I think that is an important message. A lot of men don't find that as much of a challenge. They say the past is the past and the future is the future. Certainly learn from the past, but be focused on what you can achieve.

SABRA LANE: Why do you think it is that women find it harder to move on?

KELLY O'DWYER: I don't know. I think maybe it’s because women are more self-reflective. I would say it’s a bit of a cultural thing. These are generalisations. I do think that on the whole that if something happens for a woman she will go over it and over it again. If something happens for a bloke it’s done and he has moved on.  

AMY REMEIKIS: Amy Remeikis from the Guardian. In your speech you did advise younger girls to call out bad behaviour. We know that during the leadership crisis that's exactly what happened – which women including yourself did – raising allegations of bullying and intimidation. But then we heard from the men who said it wasn't a problem and it didn't happen. Including from the Prime Minister who said he wasn't aware it was an issue. So firstly, did bullying occur during that period? Secondly, was it addressed? Because how can we ask girls and women in workplaces and homes if the highest office in the land seems to be sweeping it under the carpet. 

KELLY O'DWYER: It's a really good question Amy. It's always important to examine what's happened in the past but as I said, it’s also important to look forward to the future and to look forward to putting in place measures to be able to deal with and address those problems. I don't resile for one moment from the statements that I made about that time. I certainly am very pleased that the Prime Minister took up my suggestions to be able to put in place a proper process where there could be formal, independent, rigorous complaints made within each division within the Party organisation. I've been asked about this and I've been informed that is precisely what is occurring. That's obviously under the management of the Party organisation and it’s under the auspices of the Federal Executive. It is fair to say that across politics we have seen very bad behaviour. Only in recent weeks we have seen misogynistic comments made about women by Greens members, including sexual harassment. We have also seen appalling allegations about sexual assault as well. Yet we haven't heard that condemned. I think we need to hear that condemned. Equally, you have got the Opposition Leader who has seen a member of his own political party in Victoria, Jane Garrett, who has been bullied as a result of simply doing her job. Bullied by the Union movement that he relies on in order to get funding and support. Again he has been silent. I think we all need to step up and we all need to lead. I think it is important that each of us play their part. What I am here today to talk about, because what happens in politics whilst important, is not speaking to every Australian. The Women’s Economic Security Statement that I made today is very much focused on every Australian and how we can reduce the barriers for women to increase their financial security. Because we know that when they are able to do that they have greater choices about their lives and they are unable to call things out.

ROSIE LEWIS: Hi Kelly, Rosie Lewis from The Australian. I might just pick up on Amy's question. You mentioned the complaints handling process that the Party is looking at. I wanted to know have you taken a personal interest in that process? How do you think that process can best work? Can you tell us when we will know what this process looks like? And is it going to convince Australians that the Liberal Party is serious about getting rid of bullying within its ranks. 

KELLY O'DWYER: As far as I am aware we are actually the only party that is looking to put in place a formal process. I am not aware of any other political party that has anything other than informal processes. I think that is the first point I would make. It’s not going to be perfect, no complaints process ever is. We've got someone who’s actually an expert in these matters, Kate Jenkins, who is here today at the Press Club. We have to strive to do better and to provide a mechanism to stop bad behaviour and provide a resolution point when there is bad behaviour. That is important in our workplace because as we all know when people are bullied or sexually harassed it can have profound financial implications for them. It’s one of the reasons as Minister for Women, I was so incredibly supportive of Kate as Sex Discrimination Commissioner conducting a national inquiry into sexual harassment, and also looking at this issue a little bit differently by putting an economic lens on it. Understanding that as well as the emotional toll for the individuals involved when there is sexual harassment, there are very direct financial consequences as well. That is why economic modelling is being done because financial consequences are there for the individual, and they are also there for the workplace and they impact our economy as well. 

SABRA LANE: Just picking up on Rosie's point. Have you got a personal interest in the ongoing process?

KELLY O'DWYER: Yes, I take a very active and personal interest. Frankly, I would also say this it should be for everyone, men included, to take an active personal interest in this. It’s not just for women to stand up on these issues. It’s men and women together. As I said we are on life's journey together and it’s in all of our interests to make sure that we have all have the ability to do well. 

LANAI SCARR:  Lanai Scarr from News Corp. Thank you for your speech today. On your parental paid leave announcement obviously it has been very widely well received in the community. However, there have been people who have said that the 18 weeks doesn't go far enough that we need to look at giving support to families beyond 18 weeks. What do you say to people like this who say why should my taxes go to helping people who want to have children when they may not have children themselves?

KELLY O'DWYER: It's a really good question Lanai. The truth is, I think, as a nation we do have an important investment to make in Australian families. We support families through the education system, through the health system through all aspects of our life. We want to make sure that when people do have children they have a degree of financial certainty at what can be, not only a joyous time in their life, but also what can be a pretty stressful time as well. You can read all the literature you like about becoming a new parent, but until it happens, until you actually go through it, until you actually experience it there is nothing quite like it. Having recently experienced it I can speak from personal experience. Are these the only things we should ever do forever and a day? The answer is no, these are things we are going to look into the future. Particularly when we've got the financial capacity to do so, perhaps. I think we need to evaluate what is right for the time and clearly flexibility is critically important for people as it allows them to be able to manage their life. It particularly allows greater flexibility when returning to work. 

DANA MCCAULEY: Dana McCauley, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Thank you Minister for your speech and for outlining the Government's plan on Women's economic security. Many Australian women work part-time hours after having children, many of them are employed as casual. The ACTU released research this week that shows casual workers are paid only five percent more than their peers and sometimes even less without any of the benefits such as sick leave and annual leave. Which is far less than the 20 per cent figure often cited by business. Given the Government's position that workers should not be able to double dip on entitlements and casual loadings what do you say to the union argument that workers are being ripped off by being kept in casual positions over many years, even though they might work regular and predictable hours? Does the legislative definition of a casual need to be fixed?

KELLY O'DWYER: That's a big question Dana and I will do my best to address it in a short space of time. The first point is I actually haven't seen the research you are pointing to. But there is no question that the ACTU is running a political campaign on behalf on the labour movement. They have got a very clear list of demands and they want to see them implemented by a Labor government. On this issue of casuals in the workplace, we have had casuals in the workplace for a very long period of time. It is a good thing that people have flexibility in the way that they work and business, particularly small-business, also has flexibility to bring people on. For instance at Christmas – my very first job was actually in year 10 holidays, when I was brought on as a casual at Myer to work in the bookstore prior to Christmas and then directly after Christmas, in the Boxing Day sales, in Manchester. Boy was that character building. It gave me an opportunity to be in the workforce and gather experience and skills which is fundamental. But I don't accept the premise that you have put to me that it is only 5 per cent. In many modern awards you actually receive a 25 per cent loading in lieu of your other entitlements, such as holiday and sick pay. In many awards, particularly in the result of a decision being taken by the Fair Work Commission, people do have the ability to ask to convert to permanent employment after a 12 month period of work. But many people choose not to do that because it is not in their financial interest to do that. I believe it's important to give people flexibility in the way that they work, in the way that they manage their lives. I don't believe that the workplace should be a place of conflict. For most employers they recognise that their employees are their most critical asset. They are the people who make the difference whether or not their business does well or does badly. There is a unity of purpose in that. The Labor Party and the ACTU seem to want to revive a time in the 1970s where we are going to have industrial disputation right across the country in particular sectors, which would be a very direct risk to our economy, to our employment and to the growth that we have had for the last 27 years. If people are concerned about their security when it comes to their job then they absolutely should not vote for Labor.

SABRA LANE: Your old boss once encouraged the nation to have one kid for the mum, one for the dad and one for the country. Is $109 million enough to encourage couples to have more kids?

KELLY O'DWYER: (laughs) It's not designed to encourage couples to have more kids, but it certainly provides them with a bit of comfort to manage their arrangements. As much as I admire and respect Peter Costello and as much as he's been a fantastic mentor to me. I will not be taking his advice on one for the country. In fact he quite famously said, in fact I was there, after the one for the country a fellow came up and said I have had my one for the country and I would love to know when you are coming to pick him up. Given some of the 2am, 3am wake ups I have had recently I can see where is was coming from.

MATT COUGHLAN: Matt Coughlan from the Australian Associated Press. Thanks very much for your speech Minister. The ACTU has reacted to the superannuation announcement to domestic violence victims. They say it is inadequate and they have repeated their calls for 10 days of paid-domestic violence leave. Would you like to outline why that measure hasn't formed part of your package and what that sort of opposition to introducing this position would be?

KELLY O'DWYER: Under the previous Labor government, in fact very directly when Bill Shorten had responsibility as Workplace Relations Minister, they set up the Fair Work Commission to act as an independent umpire around decisions to do with modern awards and changes to minimum wages. They also gave them the ability to make decisions about enterprise bargaining agreements and the like. That is exactly what they do. The ACTU took a case to the Fair Work Commission and they were not successful in being able to persuade the Fair Work Commission after many hearings and more than 500 pages of evidence presented to them, I think it was. They were not able to convince them that ten days of paid domestic violence leave would be appropriate. But what the Fair Work Commission did decide was that there should be an entitlement for those people on awards to be able to receive five days of unpaid domestic violence leave. We agreed that this is something that if it’s there for people in awards then it should be available for absolutely everyone, and as a government we introduced legislation to apply across the board. That's the rationale for the decision we took.  

DAVID SPEERS: David Speers from Sky News. Minister just on a practical or couple of practical things with the changes to paid parental leave. The flexibility arrangement you have announced today. So you can take 12 weeks as a block and then you've got six weeks you can stagger over two years. Take one day if that suits you. What will that mean for small-businesses? Will they have to accommodate that for the employer? How will that work? Is there a requirement that they do allow the mother or father to stagger the leave like that? Just on that, the Government's scheme is gender neutral and I've heard you and others argue that men should be taking parental leave more often. But not all companies are gender neutral. I know many of the big banks and my employer is in terms of men or women, if they are the primary carer they can access the same amount of leave. But a lot of organisations aren't, blokes can get two weeks, women can get sixteen weeks. A colleague who may or may not work for the ABC points out that's the situation there. Would you like to see others move to a more gender neutral situation?

KELLY O'DWYER: The existing system under the Government funded parental leave payment isn't gender neutral at this point in time. As you rightly point out David, there are lots of workplaces where that isn't the case. It’s my ambition that we do get there. Because it is a very practical measure to allow those choices and decisions to be made by families in terms of caring responsibilities. Let’s face it men want of be part of their children's lives. It's a complete fiction that is peddled that men aren't interested in their kids. They absolutely are. They are just as passionate about their children as women and they would like the same opportunities I think to be able to spend time with them. When it comes to workplaces obviously it’s up to each workplace to determine the flexibility arrangements they have in that workplace. Some will have more tolerance than others to be able to have more flexible arrangements. We've seen a large number of businesses now put in place really strong flexibility measures but that won't always be the case for all businesses. Because we have to recognise that there isn't one size fits all. But I'm happy to say that this idea was an idea that I discussed with Peter Strong who is the head of COSBOA, the head of the small business organisation across Australia, and it’s an idea that small-business is very enthusiastic about. But obviously everyone has to make their own decisions about how it works for them and their business. It’s something where both should be able to benefit from it. Business does benefit when they are able to retain talent in their organisation.

KATHARINE MURPHY: Hi Minister, Katharine Murphy from the Guardian Australia. I'm going to be greedy and take two questions. First one is short sharp and simple. Should Scott Morrison apologise to Pamela Anderson? This has been quite a controversy over the last 48 hours. I'm interested to know whether or not you think an apology is owed? The next question relates to tax policy which I know is a particular interest of yours. All the research tells us that all the barriers to women's participation in the labour market is high effective marginal tax rates. Do you think more needs to be done on this front and even perhaps more radically, there are some respected Harvard economists who are now talking about the tax system as potentially having a gender dimension. Given the problems with the high effective marginal tax rate, given the profound and persistence wage gap between men and women, utilising gender as a lens? I'm interested in your response to both of those? 

KELLY O'DWYER: On the first issue Katharine, look I think the Prime Minister probably regrets the comments he made and I certainly know from the discussion that he didn't mean to cause any offence. I can certainly say from personal experience that the Prime Minister has been incredibly supportive of the Women's Economic Security Statement to actually focusing a floodlight on these issues around women being able to build their financial security. On the second issue around tax, if you are getting at should there be a differential tax rate versus men, my short answer would be no. We need to have a universal tax system. Your point is right when you say that there can be some disincentives for people returning to the workforce, some very high effective marginal tax rates when you take into account household income. That can often affect decisions as to whether or not someone increases the hours of the work from three days to four days. People are going to do that in circumstances where they are not going to receive a direct financial benefit from doing so. The way that our tax and transfer system works is actually very complex. The reason that it is very complex is because we have a vast array of government payments and support that interacts very directly with our taxation system. I certainly think that there would be a great deal of value in there being a very serious comprehensive piece of work being done on this very point. I know that there have been a number that have tried certain aspects of this particular question. It's certainly something that I have been strongly focused on with Minister Fletcher who is the Minister for Social Services. 

SABRA LANE: This year there have been very high profile cases of sexual harassment where they actually haven't made harassment claims publicly. They have wanted these complaints dealt with on a confidential basis or they haven't made complaints full stop. Those cases have become very public and the identities of these women known. Have you been worried about the ramifications of this and what it means for to other women that are facing harassment and whether it emboldens offenders to keep offending?

KELLY O'DWYER: I actually do think it is a very significant issue Sabra, and it’s something that I did highlight in my first address here as Minister for Women when I reflected on the MeToo movement. The positives being that it has obviously shone a light on these very important issues. But also the negatives we have a situation where allegations can be aired through social media not always with the permission of the people involved. That can have real ramifications on the individuals involved. I think in Australia we believe in a fair go and we believe in a fair go for everyone. In order to be able to get a fair go you do need to have a proper process in place. Not simply making allegations only in a public forum. Particularly where the complainant hasn't made those complaints publicly. I can totally understand why there are women who would be reticent. Because they are worried about how it affects them and their reputation and the fact that they don't want to be defined by it. To my point before not being defined by your gender or by things that happen. I think we need to strike a sensible balance and that's why I am really delighted that Kate is doing very important work in this space through the National Inquiry looking at sexual harassment, looking at what are the practical solutions that we can find here. Noting that there is not going to be a perfect one, but recognising that there are very serious implications for people, men and women, when this does occur.  

SABRA LANE: Do you worry that it might embolden some?

KELLY O'DWER: I think it possibly can embolden some people. I have sat with women who have made sexual harassment complaints, some who have made them in quite public forums or who have been outed in that sense. The devastation that they have felt in what they believe is a public shaming as a result of having made the allegation. That is very problematic. I think it is the responsibility of the media here as well to play a moderating role in all of this. To be sensible and thoughtful and judicious in the way that they report things. We can't always control the wild web and social media but you can all have a really important role to play here.  

JOHN MILLARD: Thank you Sabra, John Millard freelance and thank you Minister for your so well researched and insightful address. The sentiments you so eloquently expressed could not be disagreed upon by anyone or any political persuasion, well almost anyone. Despite this your Government and your Party don't reflect all of these sentiments. A number of women in safe seats, the ministry, Cabinet, whilst not at an all-time low, we all remember when they were. And they're still very low. To what extent do you think that the Government and your party are undermining the admirable principles you espouse?

KELLY O'DWYER: That's a very backhanded compliment there, John, thank you for that. Well, indeed. But, what I would say is that I've got amazing colleagues and I'm joined by an amazing colleague, Senator Jane Hume, who is here today. It's simply not correct to say that the Coalition has not had women at the highest levels. We haven't had a Prime Minister yet, but we certainly have had more women around the Cabinet table since Federation than the Labor Party has, by some margin. And we've certainly had more Ministers than the Labor Party as well. I mean, they are facts. Should we have more women? Absolutely. Am I a strong supporter of that? Absolutely. And am I doing something about it in my own way in the Liberal Party? I am. And I'm doing that through an initiative that I announced on International Women's Day, recognising that women putting their hand up for public life – they're pretty brave in the current political climate right around the world to do that – but also, many of them don't put their hand up, again, because it is a financial issue. They worry about whether they'll be able to fund the campaign. Whether they will be able to get the support that they need in order to make the case to represent their local community. So the Dame Enid Lyons Fighting Fund is there to be able to turbo charge those campaigns. I think it's probably long overdue and I'm very pleased that a number of my colleagues have joined me in support of that initiative.

ROSIE LEWIS: Hi, again. I might follow up on that. Which colleagues have supported you in that initiative? And I'm interested in your take –we've got the final Parliamentary sitting week coming up, which we're all very excited about. You're in minority Government. Just how under control do you think that the Coalition can keep the House of Representatives? And how reliable do you think the maverick Independent MP, Bob Katter, will be in supporting your Government in the final two weeks of the year?

KELLY O'DWYER: We're very much in Government and I think that this idea that there's going to be chaos in the House of Representatives is simply not correct. We have not had an issue in the House of Representatives and I don't anticipate that we will. We have a very clear agenda that we are working through and we've got a very clear agenda in the Senate, which, of course, is not balanced the Government's way. But one of the real challenges that we face is that as a Government, unlike in times past where you had the Opposition political party be able to put aside partisan politics and to be able to actually work together on genuine things in the national interest, we haven't seen that. And we haven't seen that with some legislation that we know that the Labor Party say deep down, or at least whisper behind their hand to stakeholders, that they ultimately support. And I think that's a real shame. And I don't think that that is a sign that they have the political maturity to be able to lead this country and govern this country. But I'm not going to give a commentary on independents. Bob has his own style. I think everybody knows his style. And look, I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead and the Parliamentary sitting period.

SABRA LANE: You've talked about the Liberal Party having had a good record in women MPs and women sitting at the Cabinet table. Do you, yourself, harbour any ambitions one day to be Prime Minister?

KELLY O'DWYER: (laughs) I am very happy doing the job that I currently do.

SABRA LANE: It's not that you're out to get Scott Morrison. But in the distant future?

KELLY O'DWYER: I am very happy doing the job that I do and I want to do it to the best of my ability. And in terms of what happens in the future, that's for the future.

SABRA LANE: One of the points from your package today, a large portion of the money, $50 million, will go to funding new mediation services to help separating couples sort out property disputes in a fast way and I think the aim is to avoid protracted or even going to court. How are you going to ensure that women aren't dudded through that process?

KELLY O’DWYER: One of the ways that this is actually going to work is that there will be lawyers who are actually paid to mediate so that there is proper representation in that process, so that there can be fairness in that process – fairness for both parties, of course. But we know that when people are especially vulnerable, in order to make the situation stop, they will sometimes make quick decisions that are not ultimately in their long-term financial interests. We believe that those measures will help to be able to resolve a lot of disputes in a way that keeps it out of court, but that mean that people actually get to be heard and they actually get the entitlements that they should ultimately get. And this is particularly important, I think, for women who are carers of children we certainly know that in separation, women who have children, generally speaking, and I think these figures are right, about 97% of the time, actually do have the primary care responsibility for those children.

SABRA LANE: Please thank the Minister.